Announcing Exploratory Committee for Transition Team West Chester

We are excited to announce the formation of an Exploratory Committee for Transition Team West Chester. It’s time to rise to the Challenge of our Time!   

What is Transition Town?  Founded in 2009 in the UK and now with affiliates around the globe, Transition Towns are groups of neighbors and friends who are concerned about climate change and the health of the planet and all of its inhabitants. 

As stated by Transition Town Media, the first in the state of PA, “We recognize that our government and institutions can’t adequately address all these concerns and that it is up to us as a community to strengthen our local economy and to keep our families happy and healthy.” 

What do Transition Towns do?  There are many options including time-banking or bartering work, free stores, repair cafes, and tool libraries.  West Chester is already doing a great deal of environmental and sustainable organizing, and many organizations are addressing issues of plastic use, organic gardening, seed banking, composting, buying nothing, and supporting local agriculture. 

We will explore whether or not to pursue the TT designation and, if so, brainstorm a plan of action for the West Chester community. If you are interested in joining this group, please contact Margaret Hudgings at mhudgings@gmail.com.  Meetings will be monthly beginning in January 2021.  All welcome.  

Fall Film and Forum Series, 2020

Brad Flamm
Amy Maxcy

The West Chester University Office of Sustainability and the WC Green Team jointly organized 4 virtual events this fall. We are grateful to Brad Flamm (director) and Amy Maxcy (office administrator) of the Office of Sustainability for all their work and also to Asst. Prof. of Organizational Communications Megan Schraedley’s Com 398 students, who led the organizing and publicity for the last 3 events.

1) September 11th panel discussion starting from the film “The Story of Plastic”

The film gives a horrifying view of how the plastics industry, an offshoot of the fossil fuel industry, has despoiled the planet and led the public to believe that recycling plastic is a viable enterprise, when in fact the only solution is to pare back our use of plastics to purposes for which it is truly essential.

Jen Maresh

Many joined in the discussion: moderator Brad Flamm, Director of the WCU Office of Sustainability; Asst. Prof. of Biology Jen Maresh (who talked about finding microplastics even at great ocean depths in the midst of the Pacific), students and community members.

Microplastic in deep-sea fish

The WCU Zero Waste Committee and student activists have been working to reduce all sorts of waste on campus, focusing on styrofoam and plastic bags. We should be talking about not 3 but 5 R’s: Refuse / Reduce / Reuse / Recycle / Rot (and more: Refill). In municipal recycling, only aluminum cans, and not plastic, have any real value. We are not paying the true costs of plastic packaging, as disposal and environmental “externalities” are concealed in the ease of purchasing products, including in vending machines. In fact, by paying for recycling, trash, and clean-up costs, the taxpayers are subsidizing plastic manufacturing and consumption.

West Chester Borough’s plan to ban single-use plastic bags and straws is on hold due to Covid-19 and opposition from the PA legislature, but a voluntary and educational phase is underway. Seventy years ago plastic didn’t even exist and people survived without it! What can be done on campus? One of many ideas: encourage RA’s to feature plastics reduction in their programming for residents.

See the film trailer and more info here, and the discussion here (enter Access Passcode: UzQ9Z?%x and note that the first few minutes missing; includes mostly accurate transcript).

2) October 16 panel on Water Quality

This very interesting discussion moderated by Gillian Alicea unfortunately is not available on podcast due to technical problems. Panelists were Joanne Stanton, co-director of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water; Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network; and entomologist John Jackson, senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center.

Some lessons: Soil and water contamination from PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) exemplifies the problem, as from firefighting foam used in military bases such as the former Naval Air Development Center in Warminster PA. This large group of man-made “forever chemicals,” which are not among the 90 nationally required to be tested for in water, likely cause brain tumors in children and also threaten all of us, including military personnel. Neither US nor PA law protects us from PFAS (found also in Teflon), which linger in the environment without known remedy. Corporations need to stop taking advantage of natural resources without facing the damages.

Diversity of life shows the health of streams; impaired streams, including 1/4 of Chesco waterways, have lost 75+% of their sensitive species, reflecting also soil degradation in drainage areas.. The harm could be reduced by less use of artificial fertilizers, more run-off buffers, and less hi-tech bias in agriculture schools. Other water issues that we may not think of enough are: warming due to power plants and climate change; salt from excessive applications in winter weather (the US applies about 400 lb per person; some streams here have become almost as salty as ocean water; bridges and vehicles are also corroded); toxics released by asphalt sealants. Even one careless person or municipality can damage a whole stream’s quality downstream.

3) November 13 panel on the film Woman at War and awards

Megan Schraedley

You can view online this inspiring event moderated by Megan Schraedley, including videos from the 8 local women awardees who exemplify leadership in sustainable practices. The program included community discussion and musical interludes by WCU cellist and composer Ovidio Marinescu. An evening for positivity, as Megan said, well worth viewing and inspirational! A variety of contributions to local sustainability were contributed by the speakers, in order:

Malena Martinez – Owner of Malena’s Vintage Boutique, West Chester

Maria Urrutia – Faculty, Theatre and Dance, WCU (and colleagues)

Gabrielle Long – MA graduate in Geography at WCU

Paige Vermeulen – Undergraduate student in Ecology and Geology at WCU

Debbie Bookman – Chester County Prothonotary

Dianne Herrin – Mayor of West Chester

Danielle Friel Otten – Representative, PA House 155th district

Keyana Cellucci – Owner, Velvet Hair Salon, West Chester

4) Local sustainability activism on December 11

Our last forum of the season, moderated by Com 398 student Bobby Carlson, featured 4 local panelists showing what campus and community groups can do to promote sustainability and environmental empowerment.

Open space advocate Ken Hemphill presented his very effective 5-minute video The Battle for Crebilly Farm, advocating preservation of a long-standing family farm south of West Chester threatened by development by Toll Brothers, even though it saw military action in the largest battle of the American Revolution and our first 9/11, the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777. Ironically, Ken said, the US government insists that foreign governments preserve land where Americans died in battle, but has no such requirement in the US. Pennsylvania Act 319, which allows land owners to preserve land in exchange for tax exoneration, requires a very inadequate 7-year back tax payment in order to sell the land for development.

In another current case, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has held a wooded property in Delaware County, untaxed for a century, that it now also wants to sell to developers, even though the County should make the land into a sorely needed public park. (For breaking news on this site, see here.)

1 tree mangled, 3 behind it saved

Courtney Finneran (WCU ’99) described the work of the West Chester Tree Team, which brought together about 50 Borough residents last year to reinforce the Urban Forester’s mission of seeing that street trees are maintained and, as needed, replaced. Trees are recognized as enhancements to environmental quality and everyday life, as seen for example in resident support for Everhart Park and Marshall Square Park. The Borough now pays half the cost of street tree removal, though abutting property owners must replace a removed tree. Property owners also receive a Stream Protection Fee abatement for heritage trees of certain species and a certain size. In a good example of resident/Borough cooperation, unlicensed removal of street trees was prevented earlier this year.

WCU student Elizabeth Schultz spoke about the campus gardens, in which she has worked for 4 years. The largest producer is the South Campus garden, which donates vegetables to the WCU Resource Pantry for students in need and also to the West Chester Food Cupboard. The WCU gardens both generate and need compost.

Recent WCU graduate Emily Rodden and current student Alex Davis described the work of Sunrise, a decentralized national youth movement to cut climate change and create jobs. The West Chester hub, founded in 2017, has promoted the Climate Strike, the Green New Deal, and political engagement by the young; it plans to endorse candidates in 2020-21 and encourage office holders to refuse fossil fuel $.

Discussion followed, including about problems with storm water drainage on campus and initiatives we hope lie ahead in 2021.

The lowdown on wood-burning stoves: They are dangerous!

Those of us who long for the simple rural life may wish to believe that burning wood in our homes is healthful. In fact, the resulting smoke reduces air quality and threatens the health of neighbors downwind of our chimneys and also in our own homes.

An article in The Guardian by Damian Carrington, “Wood burners triple harmful indoor air pollution, study finds” (Dec. 18, 2020), warns that:

“Wood burners triple the level of harmful pollution particles inside homes and should be sold with a health warning, say scientists, who also advise that they should not be used around elderly people or children.”

Especially when stove doors are opened to add wood, particles in smoke enter the living space and are breathed into the lungs, from where they are diffused through the body.

Not only that, but wood smoke “also contains carcinogenic chemicals including benzene and formaldehyde.”

We might think that wood smoke is natural and harmless, but “There is no reason to believe that particulate matter from wood-burning stoves is less toxic than that from other sources, such as combustion of fossil fuels.”

And open-air fires in fireplaces are even worse, for both inside and outside air quality.

See details and links in The Guardian.

And then there is the problem of disposing of ashes, which may still be live and cause smoke or fire; and excessive heat can degrade structural wood near the stove and increase the likelihood of a house fire.

Tell Whole Foods Market: Planet Over Plastic

Below is the text of a petition from our allies at PennEnvironment. Please sign on here and consider mentioning the issue to any Whole Foods store where you shop. If you can help the WC Green Team’s Plastic-Free Please group in any way, please contact us here.

In 2019, The Ocean Conservancy found that plastic food wrappers were the number one item of trash picked up on beaches worldwide. Single-use plastic packaging is a glaring example of a culture that prioritizes a moment’s convenience over the long-term health of our oceans. We don’t need it and, to protect wildlife and our ecosystems, we need to move beyond it.

That’s why we’re calling on Whole Foods to make a bold, time-bound commitment to reduce its plastic footprint. Help us tell Whole Foods Market that it must put the ‘planet over plastic’ by eliminating all single-use plastic packaging from its stores.

WCU North Campus Organic Garden Tour

West Chester University has four organic gardens. Read about them all here. View a video tour of the North Campus Garden here with student Elizabeth Schultz, who spoke about the WCU gardens at our Dec. 11, 2020, panel on local environment activism.

If. you’ve missed the Green Team’s own garden videos, see them all described and linked to here.

Local sustainability activism panel Dec. 11

Local sustainability activism panel: Fourth Annual Environmental Film and Forum Series at WCU sponsored by the Office of Sustainability at West Chester University and the West Chester Green Team, in memory of Graham Hudgings.

December 11, 7pm, via live internet: Local sustainability activism, featuring 5 local panelists on what campus and community groups can do to promote sustainability, outreach techniques, working successfully with non-profit and public entities, and Local Environmental Empowerment.

Register here to receive the link.

WEST CHESTER GREEN TEAM Silent Auction Nov. 25 – Dec. 5

Click HERE to view and bid on the 61 diverse and exciting items up for online auction to benefit environment and sustainability.  The West Chester Green Team is an alliance of four local environment-related citizen groups: Don’t Spray Me!Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP)Ready for 100 (i.e., 100% renewable energy), and Plastic-Free Please Action Group (PFP). Please boost our initiatives… and do your holiday shopping at the same time!

Benefits of Trees

Trees are good for nature (of course, they are part of nature) and also for people (who, whether they realize it or not, depend on nature).

West Chester Urban Forester Mike Dunn is heading up a tree-planting program this fall. As a public education measure, our allies in the West Chester Tree Team will be helping by distributing a 2-page brochure of the International Society of Arboriculture, entitled “Benefits of Trees.” (Download it from the Borough site here.)

The brochure sets forth:

• Social Benefits: Trees in our communities make us feel at home, calm, personally connected to them (and nature)….

• Communal Benefits: privacy, views, glare reduction….

• Environmental Benefits: heat moderation, air quality improvement, runoff absorption, wildlife habitats, wind reduction, reduction of pollutants….

• Economic Benefits: increased property values, reduction of heating and cooling costs, less need for storm water control facilities….

• Trees Require an Investment: of course, maintenance is needed to acquire the benefits….

For educational info from ISA, see Trees Are Good. According to the site’s Tree Benefit Calculator, one large white oak tree in our area confers benefits of about $500 a year!

See also our post “Value and Savings from 800 street trees, West Chester Borough” here.

Woman at War (film); discussion and awards Fri. Nov. 13

Fourth Annual Environmental Film and Forum Series at WCU sponsored by the Office of Sustainability at West Chester University, the West Chester Green Team, and member groups of the Chester County Environment Alliance, in memory of Graham Hudgings.

Woman at War (non-documentary film: a woman fights, not just metaphorically, for the environment in Iceland). Sponsored by WC Green Team and WCU Office of Sustainability.

Register here. View the film anytime between Wednesday 11/11 and Friday 11/13 through the link provided to registered attendees. Then join us for a post-film panel discussion and awards ceremony for local women warriors on Friday 11/13 at 7pm via Zoom. The award winners are:

Dianne Herrin- Mayor of West Chester
Danielle Friel Otten- Representative of the PA House 155th district
Debbie Bookman- Chester County Prothonotary
Paige Vermeulen- Undergraduate student at WCUPA
Gabrielle Long- Graduate student at WCUPA
Maria Urrutia- Faculty at WCUPA
Keyana Cellucci- Owner of Velvet Hair Salon
Malena Martinez- Owner of Malena’s Vintage Boutique

Next in the series: December 11: Panel: What student activists can do

Don’t work on West Chester street trees without permission!

Under West Chester Borough’s recent tree ordinance, any work performed on a street tree in the right of way must have prior borough approval which involves filling out this form and emailing to Mike Dunn.

Please spread the word and make sure your neighbors are aware, and let us know if you see any damaging tree work being performed (as in this photo; fortunately the others in the row were saved by quick action). Fall is the time for pruning and cleaning up the tree canopy, so please spread the word.

Whenever you hire someone to do tree work, be sure they are properly licensed and insured. Otherwise there can be big trouble.

Wherever a tree is, it should not be “topped.” Topping is harmfully cutting off branches and leaving stubs that are not strong enough to support the new branches that would be needed to round out and nourish the tree. A topped tree ultimately is misshapen, needs more trimming, and even dies. Download more about why not to top trees here. Why hire an arborist for your tree work? Download here.

What is a street tree? It is usually between a sidewalk and a street, or where a sidewalk would be if there were one, but it really depends on land titles, and a street tree can be as much as 10 or 12 feet from the edge of the street. So in case of doubt check with West Chester Urban Forester Mike Dunn.